The coronavirus has driven political candidates from the campaign trail. So they've been forced to get creative, bringing their messages to voters' screens and earphones, as is happening in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and primary challenger Rep. Joe Kennedy.
Markey has launched a new podcast, called "Markey on the Mic," complete with a theme song sung by a campaign staffer at the beginning of each episode.
But the subject of the podcast — and just about every other message coming from the campaign right now — is quite serious: the impact of the coronavirus on the country, the economy and people’s lives.
The inaugural episode features student and Uber driver Jonathan Bernardi and highlights the impact of the virus on the ability of gig workers to make a living — and even just to stay healthy. If medical professionals have a tough time getting personal protective gear, Markey says in the episode, think about ride-hailing drivers.
"You have somebody like Jonathan who is going to be in a position where he won’t even have the gear he needs in order to minimize the impact on his health," Markey says.
Neither Markey nor Kennedy is new to digital campaigning. Even before the pandemic, both were holding tele-town halls and social-media engagements.
But the coronavirus crisis put an abrupt end to the rallies and flesh-pressing that usually comes on the trail.
Kennedy has suspended his campaign on a week-to-week basis during the crisis. Markey has not — he continues to fundraise — his campaign reasoning that elections still went on during wars and even on Sept. 11, 2001.
But both have sought new ways to engage. For Kennedy, it’s a new social media series called the “Kennedy Evening Broadcast.”
One episode begins with Kennedy speaking from his Newton home about the challenge he and his wife, Lauren, face trying to save their young children from poor food choices — and boredom.
"Lauren and I were trying to think of what to do with them to occupy them and make sure we weren’t just pounding junk food all day," Kennedy says, addressing his webcam at the beginning of the episode. "And we obviously thought of the idea of making something together as a family. The only problem is I am a terrible cook. Lauren is actually not bad, but I burn toast."
So, in the episode, he enlists Boston celebrity chef Tiffani Faison. On one side of a split screen, Faison gives a cooking lesson, and on the other side the Kennedys — including Ellie, 4, and James, 2 — follow along in their kitchen.
Like Markey, Kennedy punctuates the fun with the serious challenges parents face in keep their kids physically and mentally healthy during a pandemic.
"School’s out. Shelter in place. Trying to find a way to make all of that work," Kennedy says in the episode. "And you’ve got two kids that know something’s weird."
According to Kennedy's campaign, he's reaching a wide audience even as he shelters at home, earning 4.6 million impressions on social medial platforms. Markey's campaign says it's still compiling numbers for the podcast.
For both candidates, for now, the campaign trail remains a virtual one.
This segment aired on April 7, 2020.